Home is a lighthouse.

I am writing this on an overnight bus from Kosovo to Montenegro, where I will be reunited with Kotor, but this post is not about how wonderful Kosovo was (and it really was) or about the home I am going back to, it is about the home I just came from.

Skopje. Let’s not forget where this Balkan love affair began all those years ago. I know it’s hard for the travellers I meet to wrap their heads around why I have been back to this eccentric city 4 times (5 by the end of this trip). While drinking rakia and talking to travellers in the garden of my friends’ new hostel (Lighthouse Hostel Skopje, you have to stay here, seriously) I realised, I had been away for nearly 3 years but these people were still as exceptional as I had remembered.

I have been back in the Balkans for a week, and it has taken me this long to piece together my feelings and settle back into my happiness. The jetlag has been put behind me, but even in those tired weary days I was filled with the usual warmth that being in this part of the world brings, and it has nothing to do with the weather.

I didn’t realise how much I had missed Skopje. I did not take anything for granted, not even watching the sparrows fly around the rose bushes while drinking a strong cup of Turkish coffee, and certainly not the people whose company I have always enjoyed and who always make me feel as if I have always been there even when years have passed us by and so much has changed.

And so my bus pulls into Kotor after a long and arduous journey from beautiful Kosovo, and I am glad to be here but I am also glad that when those tear stained final days appear I will be going back to Skopje where it all began as if that’s the way it always was supposed to be since the beginning.

Be not afraid of where you are going, of who you are, or what might take you by surprise. The best moments are not to be anticipated, only lived.

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Three questions to bring you closer to a happier reality…

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I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to searching for quotes on Google that inspire me. I am very picky about what I like, but when I find that perfect quote that looks as good as it makes you feel (big praise to those great people with amazing typography skills) it works as an awesome mood booster. I know for a fact that I’m not alone in this obsession, the internet’s abundance of “quote imagery” proves that, but as far as time wasters go I think this is a fairly positive one.

Once you learn how to be happy, you won’t tolerate being around people who make you feel anything less.” – Unknown.

I think if I had of read this quote at any other time in my life I probably would have kept scrolling, but after being on the roller coaster high of a lifetime and then coming off of it and tripping over all sorts of messy and unnecessary road bumps, I’ve now reached a place where I actually got it when I came across it today: We are all in control of our own reality, no one else, and we are also responsible for our own purpose, direction, and the people whose lives we opt to put our energy into. Our choices are everything, and they’re especially important when they’re not easy.

 

The best project you will ever work on is you!” – Unknown.

Don’t forget that the value you put into yourself will become the value you pass onto others and the world around you. There is a huge difference (mammoth, really) between being a self-centered or selfish human and the idea of working on making yourself better with the intention of benefiting the whole world and people that surround you. The current social state of this planet has proven it can be incredibly mean and unfair, but that does not mean you have to be. The phrase if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em does not apply here. Fight until you are forced to walk away. Work on yourself and push your limits. Don’t coast through life, and learn to recognise the difference between people who also want to build themselves and those who just want you to do the work for them.

Ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Is what I’m doing building me into a better person?
  • Can what I’m doing be shared for a greater good (either now or in the foreseeable future)?
  • Am I doing the work needed instead of making excuses to get out of it?

If all your answers point to yes, then you are on a wonderfully constructive path. That is your reality, so cherish it. Don’t over-complicate it because success is measured in many ways. If the answer was no, things can be changed. That’s the beauty of life!

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The trouble with goodbye…

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Let me get this out of my system from the very beginning: travel is not a story that ends softly to reassure you that all loose ends find their rightful places. This is a reality, my reality, and it is not always perfect, pretty or fair. You do not need to know who I was before I got to the Balkans, how I became such a shell of a person – that story will leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth – the only thing you need to know is that I have been reborn somehow. I have been reanimated.

I have been struggling to put Kotor into words. The two or so months prior that I had spent in the Balkans I had written home regularly. It was exhausting. I am a writer, sure, but I always feel as though I’m writing for other people. So, I stopped writing, and it was freeing. What I was feeling seemed too indescribable to me anyway. How on earth could I appropriately describe Kaitlin or Jake? How could I ever capture Danilo, Vlado or Moco in even the best formed sentences? Impossible.

I could certainly have described the beauty of the town, the mountains, the bay of Kotor. I could have created a detailed representation of Old Town Hostel, a place and people who I grew to love on such a grand scale. It was another home for me, another family, one who taught me how to have fun again and let people in more than I had before. I often say I don’t believe in love, but Kotor I believed in. It was a crazy, messy, kind of love. It was easy and awkward at the same time and I got addicted to it.

While I know the party goes on in every place after you move on, walking out on this one hurt more somehow. I mean, I have done all the things I did in Kotor in other places sure, but there it was different and I know the answer to that riddle lies with the people I spent my time with. I honestly can’t picture my life clearly before my Montenegrin month. Obviously it existed, but my slate has been wiped clean. Thank fucking goodness.

There are people I don’t feel like I got a proper goodbye with. There are friends I know that I’ll need to see again one day to feel complete. I’m so lucky my return to Germany reunited me with my running gear and armed me with a nostalgic music playlist to keep me both distracted and motivated or else I’d go mental. This way I can take care of myself and stay real for the people around me here. I remember the ugly tears, but now I can smile at the flashbacks as they hit me, hoping there’ll be another round.

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Flies and their mutterings.

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Photo by Erika Kochanski.

It’s one thing to secure yourself a bottom bunk at a hostel so you can live a blissful ladder-free existence, it’s another when you fall back on your childhood skills and build yourself a really sweet fort. I’m staying in my cocoon tonight with snacks, books and a lamp, and I refuse to feel bad about it.

There’s this thing, you see, called guilt. It’s generally put into existence by other people’s shaming yet entirely adapted into our brains on our own accord. Someone tells you that a traveller needs to do this or see that, and your brain takes out the whip and cracks it as if to say, “snap to it, motherfucker.”

If this springs true to you, put down the whip. You are allowed to retreat from the world. There will be new dogs barking at your feet tomorrow, ringmasters and their orders, flies and their mutterings buzzing about your ears, but do yourself this one kindness. It matters. Traveller or not, put yourself into timeout.